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The Trouble with Modernism: Author’s Response

In one of our most popular recent articles Luke Seaber and Michael Shallcross held an in depth discussion of our namesake, institutional and anchor and bête noire, modernism. This was followed by important interventions by Nick Hubble and Emma West, who, while agreeing in part with the observations made, suggested some rather different points of departure. Naomi Milthorpe, Robbie Moore, and Eliza Murphy, of the University of Tasmania, join this dialogue in their own answer to the question from an ‘adjacent’ perspective. In this third and final installment of this series, Luke and Michael reflect on Emma and Nick’s observations.

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Gender and Sexuality in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood

Kirsty Hewitt, University of Glasgow

Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936) presents fascinating portrayals of inversion and same-sex desire, veering away from traditional heterosexual relationships and expected societal heteronormativity. Barnes turned to the new form of modernism to better show the displacement of her unusual, sexually fluid characters, and to have a greater freedom in expressing identities which deviated from the norm.[1] Any woman who did try to exercise her sexuality, be it heterosexual or otherwise, was up against societal obstacles. As the world moved into the twentieth century, women came to finally be recognised from a political stance, but wider society was still compartmentalised into a male-dominated hierarchy.[2] The ability to place oneself into the categories of male and female was also changing; the movement of sexology had defined ‘inversion’, and many different sexualities had been created, along with a wealth of fetishisms.[3] Reading from a modern-day perspective, one will almost inevitably take into account recent transgender and ‘queer’ theories, the ideas of which, at the time of Barnes’ writing, were groundbreaking.

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Conference review: Surrealisms

 Margaux Van Uytvanck, Université Libre de Bruxelles

The International Society for the Study of Surrealism (ISSS) held its second annual conference at the University of Exeter from 29 to 31 August 2019. The ISSS was founded in 2018 to promote the study of Surrealism and encourage exchanges between scholars of the movement. The inaugural conference of the ISSS took place in November 2018 at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and, following its success, expectations were high for this year’s conference, the first one to take place in Europe. Felicity Gee (University of Exeter), the conference organiser, brilliantly met (and surpassed) these great expectations by offering a fascinating programme of panels at the university’s Streatham Campus, in association with a digital exhibition, a film programme, and a gala evening at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery.

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Book Review: Shattered Objects

Peter Adkins, University of Kent

Elizabeth Pender and Cathryn Setz, eds, Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019)

Shattered Objects is an apt title for this new collection of essays on Djuna Barnes. Taken from a 1935 letter that Barnes wrote to friend and fellow writer Emily Holmes Coleman, in which she asserted that ‘[t]here is always more surface to a shattered object than a whole object’ and that ‘the surfaces of a fragment are less “cheering”’ (p. 1), it offers, as editors Elizabeth Pender and Cathryn Setz point out, a good metaphor for an oeuvre that has often been seen to resist organic unity. Barnes, whose first publication was in 1911 and last in 1982, authored a body of writing that, thanks its sheer breadth, variety, and difficulty, offers an excess of surfaces and fragments. Yet, the image of the shattered object also offers a fitting symbol for Barnes criticism. As Tyrus Miller argues in his contribution to the volume, while Nightwood (1936) has surely ‘crossed the threshold of full canonization in modernist studies’ (p. 162), other works, such as her first novel Ryder (1928), have remained of peripheral interest even to critics working on her. As such, while Nightwood has steadily seen its critical stock rising from the 1980s onwards—both within modernist studies but also, as Julie Taylor shows in her chapter, within a twentieth-century canon of gay, lesbian and queer literature—Barnes’s wider achievements have been only partially and intermittently the subject of attention. Indeed, while a handful of monographs[1] have done much in the last fifteen-years to challenge the perception of Barnes as a one-hit wonder, it is nonetheless the case that criticism on Barnes has generally remained fragmentary and selective, not yet coalescing into a recognisable field that we might safely call ‘Barnes studies’.

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Book Review: Italian Futurism and the Machine

Tim Clarke, University of Ottawa

Katia Pizzi, Italian Futurism and the Machine (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019)

Like the industrial machines that fired the imaginations of modern artists throughout the early twentieth century, Katia Pizzi’s (University of London) recent monograph is a work of many moving parts and impressive dynamism. Rejecting the view that Italian futurism was simply assimilated into the ideological agenda of Fascism after the First World War, Pizzi argues that post-war futurism was in fact defined by its heterogeneity and transnational dispersal. One of the cardinal virtues of this book’s historical-cultural approach is its sensitivity to the ambivalences of futurist aesthetics and politics, which Pizzi examines not only through the familiar provocations of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti but through a host of lesser-known figures. From the revolutionary proletarianism of Vinicio Paladini’s paintings to the ‘gendered hybridization of human body and machine’ (p. 234) in Giannina Censi’s aerodancing, futurism appears in Pizzi’s book as a movement characterized by the same startling multiplicity of perspective that it strove to represent in its contributions to literature, painting, sculpture, photography, cinema, theatre, and dance.

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